Members of Montavilla Initiative group accused of harassing homeless people

(KPTV image)

PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – Members of Montavilla Initiative, a neighborhood safety group, are under fire after the Los Angeles Times published a story in which they are accused of “harassing” and “criminalizing” homeless people.

Since it was printed, two of the group’s six board members have stepped down and Chairwoman Angela Todd says they’ve received numerous threats of violence. She tells FOX 12 the claims referenced in the article are false.

“We’re not doing those things,” she said. “We haven’t done those things.”

Todd is referring to claims that members have thrown ice on houseless people in Montavilla during foot patrols.

“People who have been volunteering in the neighborhood, trying to administer help to homeless people, connect them to services,” Todd said. “All those people who’ve been doing things to help are scared.”

Montavilla Initiative members have been known to walk their neighborhood streets, working on crime preventions, picking up hazardous materials, like used needles and developing relationships with those in the houseless community.

The group often documents these foot patrols on social media in its private Facebook group.

In the LA Times article, Ibrahim Mubarak, director of homeless advocacy group Right 2 Survive, claims members of Montavilla Initiative are throwing cold water on transients and “‘tent slashing, harassing them then they’re going to get food, or going to needle exchange.’”

But now, Mubarak tells FOX 12, “I didn’t see it with my eyes, but I can believe that these things are happening.”

Despite a correction printed in a follow-up story, Todd said, “There are people online calling us, contacting us and telling us we better watch out for ourselves.”

She added some have even published their home addresses online, encouraging people to go and confront them.

Two members have since resigned, Todd said. FOX 12 spoke with Benjamin Kerensa, who is one of them.

When asked why he would step down if the allegations are false, Kerensa said, “I don’t want to be under attack anymore.”

According to the former Montavilla Initiative board member, “I’ve personally been homeless and suffered from substance abuse. I would never harass homeless people.”

But the Multnomah County Health Department claims it had to hire extra security to de-escalate any potential conflict between its clients and staff and Montavilla Initiative members, after a few of them attended its biweekly needle exchange.

“The video that came up in this article was one that I recorded after two individuals were threatening the group observing the needle exchange,” said Kerensa.

Copyright 2018 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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